Workers Support Proposal to Raise Minimum Wage

Nomaan Merchant

By Nomaan MerchantThe Daily Northwestern

On the night he won re-election last week, Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his supporters made no secret of his plans to increase Illinois’ minimum wage for the second time since he took office four years ago.

“Our governor is committed to raising the minimum wage,” Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said at Blagojevich’s election-night party.

“He did it in 2003, and he’ll do it again.”

In one of his first actions as governor, Blagojevich signed a bill in 2003 that raised the state minimum wage from the federal level of $5.15 per hour to the current state level of $6.50 per hour.

Now Blagojevich wants to increase the wage by another $1, to $7.50 an hour, a move the Illinois Senate approved Wednesday with a 33-21 vote.

The proposal now moves to the state House for review.

In Evanston, employees and managers alike said they would support an increase in the minimum wage for blue-collar workers.

“It’s a good idea,” said Molly Mason, a floor supervisor at Recycled Fashions, 1730 Sherman Ave. “Employees are important to companies, and they should be compensated for their hard work.”

Bryttney Bailey, a Communication senior, has worked at Beck’s Bookstore, 716 Clark St., for two months. She said an increase in the minimum wage would help her, as well as other store employees.

“It would benefit a lot of people and a lot of families that are low-income,” Bailey said.

From an economic standpoint, increasing the minimum wage raises unemployment, because higher wages force businesses to retain fewer workers, said NU economics Prof. Steffen Habermalz.

But Habermalz said there are compelling reasons to increase the minimum wage on a larger scale.

“I would rather see the federal minimum wage increased than just the Illinois one,” Habermalz said.

Habermalz said he supports a national increase because the government must “keep the needs of people in mind.”

A federal hike also would prevent Illinois employers from being placed at a disadvantage against those throughout the rest of the nation, he said.

Cook County voters supported a wage hike during a non-binding referendum last week by a margin of more than 4 to 1. In Evanston, the referendum received more than 19,000 votes – nearly 88 percent were in support of the initiative. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley also has said he would support an increase.

Even the 2003 increase was not enough, said Jack Kirk, the manager of Dr. Wax, 1615 Sherman Ave.

“In this society, people that do the hardest work are the most underpaid,” Kirk said. “The people up high do everything they can to hold on to their money.”

Kirk said increasing the minimum wage would not force him to hire fewer workers. Instead, he said his employees might work harder.

“If we get higher quality work, we might get higher profits,” Kirk said.

But Steve Reich, a Northwestern chemical and biological engineering employee, said he wasn’t sure increasing the minimum wage would help workers.

“Your gut reaction is to think you’d want to (support the increase),” Reich said. “But in terms of increasing the purchasing power of these people, I don’t really know.”

Reach Nomaan Merchant at [email protected]